North Korea vows to grow its nuclear arsenal 'at the fastest possible speed​' as tensions with South Korea rise

North Korea vows to grow its nuclear arsenal 'at the fastest possible speed​' as tensions with South Korea rise
April 26, 2019 - Vladivostok, Primorsky Krai - North Korean leader Kim Jong-un during the ceremony of laying flowers and wreaths at the memorial of eternal fire in Vladivostok, Russia (Shutterstock).

North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un vowed to grow his country's nuclear arsenal "at the fastest possible speed" during a military parade in Pyongyang on Monday. Kim's proclamation came as tensions with South Korea rise ahead of the inauguration of its new President, Yoon Suk-yeol, on May 10th.

Yoon "will align South Korea’s policy on North Korea closer to that of Washington’s by reinvigorating sanctions enforcement on the North" once he is sworn in next month, the New York Times explained on Tuesday. That alliance between South Korea and the United States has been the primary source of Kim's incessant saber-rattling since he came to power in 2011.

North Korea boasts the world's fourth-largest military, with 1.3 million active-duty personnel, according to a December report published by the Council on Foreign Relations.

Donning his finest military garb, Kim, who as of 2021 is estimated to have 40-50 nukes, touted Pyongyang's nuclear capabilities.

“The nuclear forces, the symbol of our national strength and the core of our military power, should be strengthened in terms of both quality and scale,” Kim said as reported by the Times.

On display during the march was North Korea's new Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, the Hwasong-17, which was purportedly tested in March. Reports of whether this actually occurred are conflicting, however. Pyongyang claims that the test was successful. South Korea, meanwhile, alleges that it never took place and that a Hwasong-15 was launched instead.

Either way, while Kim's stockpile has been the bedrock of his nation's defensive confidence, the 38-year-old dictator warned that “our nukes can never be confined to the single mission of war deterrent.”

Kim added that “if any forces try to violate the fundamental interests of our state, our nuclear forces will have to decisively accomplish its unexpected second mission."

Those remarks were in response to Yoon's campaign pledge that South Korea would consider launching “pre-emptive strikes” against the North if it perceived an imminent atomic threat, according to the Times.

The paper also noted that Kim's attire on Monday night was a signal to his adversaries, especially South Korea, that he demands to be taken seriously:

'It’s unusual for Kim Jong-un to deliver a speech during a parade in his marshal’s uniform,' said Cheong Seong-chang, director of the Center for North Korean Studies at the Sejong Institute, a research think tank in South Korea. 'This signals an extremely hard-line stance he will likely adopt toward the incoming South Korean government of Yoon Suk-yeol, who has voiced a hawkish stance toward the North.'

Relations between the West and North Korea have deteriorated since negotiations fell apart at a summit that Kim and former President Donald Trump held in Hanoi, Singapore, in 2019. The event was widely panned as a pointless publicity stunt.

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